HUNTSVILLE – Sam Houston State received another strong outing from Heath Donica but could not muster much offensively, falling 2-0 to Louisiana in the first of a three-game set on Friday night at Don Sanders Stadium.
Donica (1-1) was lights out, fanning 11 hitters in seven innings, allowing just one run, coming on a hit by pitch in the second. The right-hander has struck out 25 hitters through two games but was handed his first loss.
The Bearkats (2-3) managed just two hits but stranded four leadoff runners, thanks in large part to a quality start from Gunner Leger (1-1) who fanned six and walked one while picking up his first win.
The squads return to action for the middle-game of a 3-game set on Saturday at 3 p.m. Sam Houston will look to even up the series, turning to left-handed redshirt sophomore Seth Ballew. The game can be heard courtesy of Bearkat Sports Network via GoBearkats.com.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Louisiana (2-2) struck in the second, loading the bases on an infield single from Jam Williams that squibbed by third baseman Andrew Fregia. Brenn Conrad followed, taking a controversial hit by pitch, plating Alex Pinero to give the Cajuns a 1-0 lead.
The Bearkats were plagued by missed opportunities in the bottom half. Robie Rojas continued his early-season hot streak, roping a leadoff double down the left-field line.
Leger, who pounded the zone with 17-straight strikes to open the game, would escape the jam. Clayton Harp waved at a 0-2 pitch and Jaxxon Grisham popped out before Lance Miles grounded out to second, ending the threat.
Harp led off the fifth with a single, placing the ball just behind a leaping Conrad at second. Grisham was able to execute to sacrifice bunt to move Harp over and the speedy freshman created a tremendous jump swiping third.
Taylor Beene reached with a leadoff walk in the sixth, the first for Leger, and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. With two outs, Fregia drove a ball to deep left but Kennon Fontenot made a running catch, coming down with the ball against the wall to save a run.
With Leger exiting the game, Louisiana brought on right-hander Colton Lee, who proceeded to walk Rojas on four straight pitches. After two consecutive balls to Harp, the Cajuns went to closer Dylan Moore. With no one out, Rojas swiped second but was stranded there courtesy of two straight sensational grabs from Fontenot in left.
The Cajuns added an insurance run in the ninth as pinch-hitter Todd Lott drove an RBI single to right field off Sam Houston reliever Mark Hammel. Fregia used a six-pitch leadoff walk in the bottom half but was eventually left at third as Sam Houston was held scoreless in the regular-season for the first time since March 5, 2016, at Wichita State.
Head coach Matt Deggs on the pitching duel…
“It was a Friday night tilt. Two great arms were going after it. Gunner is as good as it gets and right now we’ve got a pretty good buffalo on the mound. Heath goes out there and kept us in the ballgame. We hit the ball hard at times. We need to continue to work to execute better. We had our opportunities to win this ball game but we just fell short.”
Catcher Robie Rojas on the strong pitching from both sides…
“Leger just knew how to keep you off-balance. He really knew how to command his fastball. I know when I get behind the plate and see Heath on the hill, it’s a relief. He’s pitching amazing. He is hitting spots and throwing his 0-2 breaking balls in the dirt.”
Starting pitcher Heath Donica on another subperb outing…
“My command wasn’t as good as it has been but I thought I was able to compete. I had guys behind me making really good plays. I found my sinker more so. Going through the game, you feel what you really have going for you and that was something going for me. I feel like I started to attack the zone more with that and let my guys play defense behind me.”